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Are regional economic development partnerships possible?

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Mike Brown, guest columnist

Regionalism in economic development. To some, the idea that neighboring cities and counties collaborate to foster business growth, rather than compete for it, may seem like a radical concept. Will communities that have different plans and goals really be able to prosper and meet their residents’ needs if they practice economic development on a regional level rather than a local level? Can disparate populations and areas effectively act as one? The answer is that they have to if they are going to successfully compete in the global marketplace. Economic regions, more than political boundaries, are defining markets and driving economic growth in the global economy today. It is by working together to leverage regional assets that regions will be able to grow and prosper into the future.

Economic development is the practice of leveraging public assets, infrastructure and workforce in order to grow jobs and capital investment in a region. It is the concerted actions of individuals and communities to promote economic health. This means focusing on helping businesses large and small to expand and grow. In most cases, existing businesses will account for 80 percent of a region’s economic growth and so economic developers want to help them to continue to succeed. The balance of will come through the attraction of new investors and companies to bring new growth to the region. The ability to help new or existing businesses to grow, lies in the region’s ability to coordinate regionally and work to make them successful.

Regional cooperation is important because often what businesses need to grow, transcend city or county boundaries. The most critical aspect that enable businesses to grow, is by far the availability of workforce. Without a dynamic workforce to drive growth, no business can grow. Approximately 85 percent of the residents of the Greater MSP region commute up to 24 miles for their job, and another 10 percent will commute up to 50 miles. They regularly cross city and county boundaries. Technology has made it so that workers don’t need to be at the worksite every day. A business growing in our region can expect to draw workers from throughout the area.

Infrastructure requires regional cooperation. Roads, airports, and broadband all serve businesses on a larger scale than an individual community and they are critical for business growth.

Our economy is increasing becoming driven by knowledge. Innovative ideas come from many sources. Business can leverage the knowledge at colleges and universities. Research facilities can learn a lot from business. The public sector brings great vision for the community. The collective intelligence isn’t contained in one community. All contributes to the well-being of the community. In short, the assets a community needs to grow, are available on a regional basis rather than local one.

Our region embarked on a regional strategy five years ago. There was much trepidation and there has been some conflict along the way. We try to ensure that each city or county reaches its goals. We have found that we are stronger working together, our image among businesses has improved and we are seeing economic growth. Ours is a region where business and people prosper.

• Mike Brown is vice president of Marketing and Communications for the Greater Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership. He will be the keynote speaker at The Gazette’s Business 380 Excellence Awards banquet Thursday at the Hotel at Kirkwood.

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